Sunday, June 25, 2006

Attorney for the Chandlers Steers a Quiet and Inconspicuous Course

Los Angeles Times
By David Streitfeld
June 24, 2006

For years, Chandler family lawyer William Stinehart Jr. has played the invisible front man.

One person who served with Stinehart as a director of Chandler-controlled Times Mirror Co., the former owner of the Los Angeles Times, couldn't recall him. The executive, who requested anonymity, drew a blank even after viewing a photograph of Stinehart.

People who have been in meetings with the Los Angeles tax lawyer confirm that he's taciturn. Former Times Senior Vice President Jeffrey S. Klein said Stinehart was 'a very shy, soft-spoken guy' to the point that 'I don't recall him ever saying a word' at board meetings.

Behind the scenes, however, Stinehart is the Chandler clan's designated enforcer, most recently firing the salvo that brought the family's revolt against Tribune Co. into the open.

This month Stinehart penned a blistering letter using terms such as 'failed,' 'disastrous,' 'strategic missteps' and 'little credibility' to describe the Chicago media company's stewardship in the six years since it acquired Times Mirror.

Stinehart sent the letter on behalf of himself and two other Chandler family representatives who sit on Tribune's board. Their demands, if implemented, would ultimately lead to the breakup or sale of the company.

Stinehart's quietness can be deceiving.

'He's conservative with words,' said Norman Sprague III, who serves with Stinehart on the board of the Harvey and Mildred Mudd Foundation. 'But he's not shy about expressing his opinions.'

In 2000, Mark Willes, then chairman of Times Mirror, found out how devastating Stinehart's words could be when the lawyer dropped by for what Willes thought was an innocuous chat.
Instead, Stinehart told Willes that the Chandlers were in secret talks to sell Times Mirror to Tribune.

An unidentified colleague who saw Willes later said he was 'white as a sheet' and heard him say, 'I just had the worst hour of my life,' according to an account written by former Times Publisher David Laventhol for the Columbia Journalism Review.

Stinehart wasn't brought in by the Chandlers to play such a role, but evolved into it. The sprawling Chandler family is made up of deeply press-adverse press lords, and they picked a lawyer in their mold.

In an era when Google can ferret out colorful trivialities and ancient revelations on just about anyone in the public eye, Stinehart, 62, comes up dry.

His biography is the shortest among Tribune directors on the company's website, two brief paragraphs totaling fewer than 75 words.

Stinehart declined to be interviewed for this story. He even quashed a request made by The Times of Harvard-Westlake School to view the 1961 yearbook of predecessor Harvard School. Stinehart had been the school's student body president.

What is known about him is he came out of a well-to-do world, where his parents - identified in The Times' style of that long-ago era as 'Mr. and Mrs. William Stinehart of Hancock Park'

- gave parties featured in the society columns. William Stinehart Sr. died last year.

A friend from childhood, Richard Elgar Lyon Jr., recalled Stinehart as a basketball player with 'a great hook shot,' a water-skiing and volleyball buff, and an engineering student who decided he liked history better.

An usher at Stinehart's 1968 wedding, Lyon became his brother-in-law. A prominent attorney himself, Lyon said that when they get together these days their primary sports activity involves watching the Dodgers.

Stinehart earned his bachelor's degree from Stanford University and a law degree from UCLA, where he was a member of the Order of the Coif honor society.

Stinehart's connection to the Chandlers came through Los Angeles law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which Stinehart joined in 1969.

For years the senior attorney for both the Chandlers and Times Mirror was Gibson Dunn's F. Daniel Frost, who married into the family and served on the company's board for a quarter-century. When Frost resigned as a director in 1992, Stinehart, a tax and estate specialist at the firm, took his place. Today, Gibson Dunn's website identifies Stinehart as retired.

Despite his close ties to the Chandler family, to some family members he remains an enigma.

'He serves on the board of the family trust, but doesn't interact with the rest of the family, as far as I know,' said Harry Chandler, son of the late Times Mirror Chairman Otis Chandler.

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